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NRBQ and friends throw ‘Party for Joey,’ a Sweet Relief tribute to Joey Spampinato

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NRBQ performing in Portland, Maine in 2004. From left, Johnny Spampinato, Joey Spampinato, the late Tom Ardolino, Terry Adams. NRBQ performing in Portland, Maine in 2004. From left, Johnny Spampinato, Joey Spampinato, the late Tom Ardolino, Terry Adams. (AP photo by Fred J. Fields)

A fantastic spirit of joy and passion runs through each of the 14 tracks that comprise a new benefit tribute album for Joey Spampinato, co-founding member of NRBQ who was diagnosed with cancer nearly six years ago. The singer, songwriter and bassist spent the better part of four decades in that uncompromising and legendarily influential band, from 1967 through 2004, amassing a devoted audience of fervent fans, some of whom appear on this record.

“Party for Joey: A Sweet Relief Tribute to Joey Spampinato” (True North Records) features a lineup of Q fans and friends, including Bonnie Raitt, Ben Harper with Keith Richards, The Minus 5 (with members of R.E.M.) and comic illusionists Penn and Teller, each having a go at a different Spampinato-penned song, most of which were selected from the group’s expansive back catalog and all recorded expressly for this collection.

The results highlight the stylistic breadth of Spampinato’s songwriting, ranging from Beatle-esque pop and groove-driven rhythm and blues to rockabilly and old-school country, reinforcing the unassailable fact that NRBQ, then and now, is an American treasure.

The album kicks off with a rocker from Spampinato’s NRBQ bandmate, guitarist “Big” Al Anderson, delivering a potent take of Joey’s “You Can’t Hide.” The song first appeared on NRBQ’s 1969 self-titled Columbia Records debut and was given an updated treatment on the band’s 1980 album “Tiddlywinks.” Anderson devoted more than 20 years to NRBQ before establishing a successful songwriting career in Nashville in the mid-1990s. He sounds as vital as ever here on the track that became a clear choice for the opener once it was delivered for this project.

In a 2003 A&E documentary on NRBQ, Bonnie Raitt called the group “The greatest rock and roll band of all time.” She recorded two of their classics, “Me and The Boys” and “Green Lights” in 1982, and reprises the latter song here in a dynamic new version recorded with the current lineup of the band. Backing Raitt on lead vocals and slide guitar is NRBQ leader and co-founder Terry Adams, bassist Casey McDonough, guitarist Scott Ligon, and drummer John Perrin. The classic Q sound and feel lives on in their faithful tendering of the music.

Los Lobos, another multi-genre treasure of a band that has long cited NRBQ’s influence, delivers a faithful rendition of the exuberantly soulful “Every Boy, Every Girl,” first released on the Q’s 1987 live album “God Bless Us All.”

Rhode-Island based alt-rock/folk band Deer Tick channels the spirit of NRBQ in rockabilly mode on “That I Get Back Home,” as does The Plimsouls’ founder, Peter Case, on “Don’t Knock on My Door.”

Each artist represented on “Party for Joey” was invited to choose a Spampinato-written song that inspires them, according to producers.  The album was spearheaded by the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund and has been in the works since shortly after Spampinato’s diagnosis, said project producer Sheldon Gomberg.

The Grammy-winning producer, engineer and bassist said he reached out to Spampinato’s wife, musician Kami Lyle, and brought up the idea of a fund-raising tribute record. At first, she politely declined, Gomberg said, citing Spampinato’s shyness and desire not to be the center of attention.

“A month later when Joey was undergoing treatment, Kami called and said ‘I want to do something to make him happy and brighten his day, let’s do this,’” Gomberg told The Maine Edge. Of Spampinato’s music, he adds “Joey is such a great songwriter and has such a unique way of coming at the bass, it’s almost like you can’t copy him.”

About half of the album’s participants were invited to take part by Lyle and Spampinato. Gomberg said he recruited the other half, including Ben Harper, who teamed up with Keith Richards, blues harmonica great Charlie Musselwhite, Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, Don Was, and drummer Don Heffington, to record Spampinato’s roots-rocking “Like a Locomotive.”

Gomberg says it’s a very meaningful track for him. He received a Grammy in 2014 for his work on Harper’s “Get Up!” LP. It also contains one of the final performances by his friend and frequent collaborator, Don Heffington, who passed away in March of this year.

“Plus how many chances do you get to have Keith Richards on a track?” Gomberg asked. The Rolling Stone is a longtime fan of NRBQ, and particularly of Spampinato, whom he recruited for his 1988 album “Talk is Cheap” after he’d performed with the Q bassist in the house band formed to back Chuck Berry in Taylor Hackford’s 1987 rock-doc “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n Roll.”

“I’d heard that Keith wanted Joey to join the Rolling Stones (in the early 90s) but Joey was dedicated to NRBQ and didn’t want to leave,” Gomberg adds.

The duo She & Him, consisting of actress and musician Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward, deliver a dreamy version of Spampinato’s “How Can I Make You Love Me?” originally from NRBQ’s “Grooves in Orbit.”

The Minus 5, a rotating musical collective headed by Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh Fellows – this time featuring NRBQ fans Peter Buck and Mike Mills of R.E.M. – faithfully rock it up on “Don’t She Look Good,” originally from the album “Kick Me Hard.”

Singer-songwriter Steve Forbert (“Romeo’s Tune”) chose a song showcasing Spampinato’s sublime McCartney-esque balladry with “Beverly,” from “Tiddlywinks.”

Americana singer-songwriters Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale selected the relatively recent tune “How Will I Know?” originally from the Spampinato Brothers’ 2013 EP “Smiles.”

Alt-country singer songwriter Robbie Fulks chose an appropriate alt-country Q song with “Chores,” all about getting it done on the farm.

Magician, actor and musician Penn Jillette has been a very vocal NRBQ advocate for decades, and teamed up with his vocally silent comedy partner Teller, for a cocktail-jazz infused version of “Plenty of Somethin’” from NRBQ’s 1997 LP “You’re Nice People You Are.”

Montreal’s The Nils team up with legendary UK session ace Chris Spedding (Paul McCartney, Jack Bruce, Elton John) for a thrashing version of Spampinato’s “That’s Alright.” The original, from 1975’s “All Hopped Up,” sounded almost like a long-lost mid-1960s Beatles song. This rendition is nearly a punk take on the tune with a wild solo from Spedding.

The album’s most moving moment comes at the end when we hear a new song, co-written and recorded by Kami Lyle and Joey Spampinato. The sweet “First Crush” is their love song written and sung to each other. It’s a powerfully emotional capper.

Proceeds from the sale of “Party for Joey” benefits The Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians and music industry workers struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability or age-related problems.

Sheldon Gomberg says he became involved with the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund after he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“Sweet Relief helped me in a big way when I began having trouble walking,” Gomberg said. “I have a hard time accepting gifts, it makes me feel weird, but they helped me put in an elevator and also hooked me up with the MusiCares Foundation. I offered to repay them by helping them produce albums like this. I’m able to help Sweet Relief the way they helped me, and it helps the music community which has supported me for all of these years.”

Reports about Spampinato’s health these days are hopeful. According to Gomberg, the musician was told by doctors he is “cancer free.”

 “Party for Joey: A Sweet Relief Tribute to Joey Spampinato” is available from all major music retailers, including Bull Moose, Amazon, and all digital streaming outlets. It can be ordered directly from the label at www.TrueNorthRecords.com.

For more information about the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, visit www.SweetRelief.org.

Last modified on Wednesday, 14 July 2021 07:42

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